Stone deems Charlotte and the Carolinas as “not worthy,” and why that’s OK

After several months of research, Stone has passed on Charlotte and the Carolinas for its new brewery

In less than two weeks, The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery will open its new facility, just a stone’s throw from its current site. It’s been a huge project, with an investment of nearly $8 million and looks to be spectacular from what I’ve seen so far.

When I went to Olde Meck’s groundbreaking last September, the speech John Marrino gave that day really resonated with me. He spoke about supporting local and what he called a “virtuous cycle,” which is basically one event having a positive effect on the next, helping to stimulate the local economy. For instance, brewery opens > brewery creates jobs > those jobs help produce beer > people spend money on beer > that money is used to help create more beer and pay for salaries/other things > and so forth.

I’ve thought about OMB a lot while following the Stone East Coast brewery storyline over the past several months. In summary, Stone announced earlier in the year that it was setting out to build a large brewery east of the Mississippi. Cities were invited to fill out requests for proposals, which outlined numerous requirements in order for Stone to build there. More than 250 cities jumped at the chance to be considered “worthy” (playing off Stone’s tagline), including Charlotte – which saw two groups actually submit 10 proposal sites, but that’s a different story for a different time.

The last few months have been filled with fervent pushes by said cities to help their case (Facebook page creation, media coverage, etc.), followed by rampant rumors about who was or wasn’t on the shortlist or a finalist. Really, it was a fine piece of marketing by Stone, which never confirmed or denied any of the rumors, all the while enjoying their brewery being in the spotlight.

On Monday, I finally was able to confirm what many knew for some time: that Charlotte and the rest of the Carolinas (including Greensboro, Wilmington, Charleston and Myrtle Beach, which also submitted proposals) were no longer being considered for Stone’s new brewery. In an email, Stone public relations specialist Sabrina LoPiccolo was brief, writing “after careful review and evaluation, we narrowed the candidates to locations that we feel better fit our needs and requirements.”

Some will be disappointed at this news, and there’s good reason to be. Stone is a huge name in the craft beer world and produces some top-notch beer. Hundreds of jobs would have been created with Stone coming to the Queen City. And it surely wouldn’t have hurt the steadily-growing theme of Charlotte becoming one of the hottest craft beer destination cities in the Southeast.

(As an aside, kudos to South Carolina’s craft community, which used the potential for Stone coming to an S.C. city to create a new law allowing for more beer to be brewed and sold on-site, which in turn should set the state up well for craft brewery expansion. This was really well done and may be a bigger win than Stone coming to the Palmetto State itself.)

It’s no secret I was never big on Stone coming here, with concern that it would overshadow the hard work all of Charlotte’s local breweries have put in over the past couple years to create a large-sized footprint in the Southeastern craft beer community and beyond. But the last straw for me was when I read about their crowdfunding campaign for the East Coast brewery and another brewery in Berlin.

I’m sure Stone will reach their goal of $1 million, but I’m not a fan at all of this model, especially when there are so many others that have poured blood, sweat and tears into making a business plan work and pounded on countless doors of banks to try and make their dream a reality. (And yes, I realize that some breweries bring in investors to help, but at least that involves a larger effort than getting on the Internet and giving out prizes for donations). So as to not get on too much of a tangent, I’ll leave the rest of this argument to Deadspin’s Will Gordon, who explains everything beautifully.

And this brings me back to Marrino’s speech and his virtuous cycle. When Olde Mecklenburg first opened in 2009, it was a huge leap of faith. Local craft beer barely registered as a blip around these parts at that time. Marrino had a vision of what could be, saw potential and acted on it. Five years later, Olde Mecklenburg is set to become one of the largest craft brewhouses in the state.

Most of Charlotte’s breweries followed the path that OMB (and Four Friends, which unfortunately has since closed) trailblazed. I think back to NoDa co-owners Suzie and Todd Ford, who took their retirement savings and put it into the idea that Charlotte was ready for a new craft brewery. Now, NoDa Brewing has multiple national beer medals and is set to expand to a new location. I remember speaking with head brewer Conor Robinson shortly after Birdsong opened, trying their Jalapeno Pale Ale and thinking this is quite possibly the best beer I’ve had in some time. Robinson, managing partners Tara and Chris Goulet and the rest of the Birdsong staff are on the move too, opening a larger facility later this fall.

I also recall when the owners of Triple C made that first trip on the light rail to deliver a keg of Light Rail Pale Ale to The Liberty. Triple C’s second anniversary is in late August, and I’m extremely excited for their barrel-aging program that is steadily growing. I can remember the huge smile on owner Brad Shell’s face when he broke ground last July with a jackhammer (as only Shell can do) at Unknown Brewing. Fast forward a year and events such as their Bacon Beer Blowout has the brewery packed.

Most recently, I stopped by Sycamore Brewing, where co-owners Sarah and Justin Brigham have been working day and night to open what will be Charlotte’s newest brewery. Formerly an old auto garage, the transformation has been nothing short of fantastic and I can’t wait for Sycamore to start serving beer in a few months.

You see, what these breweries have done is bet on this city and its people by simply presenting outstanding beer choices to the masses and letting their product speak for itself. So far, the returns have been phenomenal. You could call that crowdsourcing in its own right, but these campaigns start with an investment on people first before the money part.

And that’s how it should be, at least in this beer writer’s opinion.

And here’s the other thing: while the Queen City would have likely been a fine choice for Stone, the honest truth is that Charlotte needs to take care of Charlotte’s breweries first. Thankfully, the city has finally woken up and loosened its zoning restrictions, which will allow for some of the aforementioned expansions, along with paving the way for breweries to open in new areas of the city that previously weren’t allowed.

Leading up to the vote, this portion in a recent Observer article floored me:

"Ford said although she's hopeful, if she and her husband had to do it over again, they wouldn't have opened a brewery in Charlotte."

And in another Observer article prior to the zoning changes, Chris Goulet added “the city pretty much requires that we leave the neighborhood, or leave the city.”

Think about that for a second. Charlotte is being recognized nationally thanks to its local breweries, and a few were close to having their hands forced and potentially leave. That’s a huge problem, and it’s great to see the city council finally realizing that and rectifying the situation.

So congratulations to Norfolk, or Ohio, or wherever the new Stone East Coast brewery is going to be. I’m sure it’ll be great.

As for Charlotte and the rest of the Carolina craft beer communities? Something tells me we’ll all be just fine. If you don’t believe me, head over to a local brewery, order a beer and start up a conversation with the patrons, head brewer and/or the owner.

After that, I think you’ll agree.

Categories: Beer